When Leadership Wants to Destroy Your Art
When I was growing up, my mom never let me watch professional wrestling. Something about it being fake, or hypersexualized, or “no son of mine is going to run around in his bikini shorts.” But whatever the reason, I wasn’t allowed to watch. So I did what any obedient son would do. I made up for lost time when I got my own apartment. I spent all Monday night in front of the TV watching WCW and WWF wrestling. And during those episodes, a young Dwayne Johnson made his debut as The Rock. He was cocky. He was sarcastic. And one of his many trademark lines was, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” I’m pretty sure there were some expletives in there as well, but the intent is the same.
That line, as absurd as it was, has stuck with me and has actually helped me become a better designer. At least the first part. Knowing my role has kept me anchored when the design waters get a bit rough. Whether you work for a church or a corporation, it’s important to constantly remind yourself where you fit into the whole. If you can’t do that, you will constantly wear a chip on your shoulder, convinced that Leadership—or those in charge—are trying to destroy your art.
Let’s be honest: As designers, we’re a bit emotional at times. We might be hipsters. People might call us aloof. Starbucks baristas might know us by name. But when it comes to our designs, we get emotionally attached to them. We invest our time and energy into them. We scour the Internet looking for the perfect stock photo. The hand written font that looks hand written, but is still a font. And free. We carefully mask and crop and save repeatedly. And in the end we step back and look at our masterpiece and say, “It is good.”
And then we send it to our supervisor.
When I forget my role, this is where things fall apart. When I worked for a church, my input was valued and asked for. I was invited to brainstorming meetings. I was asked to create and “run with it.” And for the most part, the approval process was fairly easy. So it was a fairly rude awakening to join the corporate world and find a different response. My opinion was not needed. People way above my pay grade had met in closed rooms to discuss marketing and programming and revenue and viewership. A sketch artist had been commissioned to draw up what the campaign would look like. When it got to me, I was to bring that sketch to life. It wasn’t my time to say, “That’s nice, but wouldn’t it be better if…”
My role was simply to bring that sketch to life. Early on, I had trouble adapting to my role. And I would leave work disheartened because my concepts would come back to me with critical remarks. Commands to strip away elements that I thought added to the design. Edits to simplify and de-clutter. I was wondering if I was even good enough to do my job.
And that was my problem. I was trying to do my job, plus the job of the leadership team. Leadership never wanted to destroy my art. They wanted me to implement the design in the way that was explained to me.
When I get on board with that, I flourish. My art flourishes. The company flourishes.
The same is true of you, regardless of your situation. You have a role. If you are constantly fighting Leadership over your designs, it might be a good time to step back and reevaluate your role. Maybe it was never explained to you. Maybe you thought you had more creative control than you actually do. Can you adapt to that or is it a deal breaker? Are you trying to add creative control at a point in the project that is deemed too late? If so, can you be a part of the brainstorming earlier in the process?
Even though you might not be on the leadership team, you can still learn how to work effectively within the parameters of your role so that you leave work empowered and not feeling beat down. Leadership is not out to destroy your art.
Your art is important. There is a goal in it all. Figure out that goal, tap into it, and enjoy your work.